One of the weirdest cases of the 2016 MLB season is that of Tom Wilhelmsen, a Seattle Mariners player who was traded to division rivals the Texas Rangers when the season began, failed miserably there, got cut, got signed again by the Mariners and has been doing incredibly well since going back there. Smells like a conspiracy, doesn’t it?
This reddit thread made by a Rangers fan certainly suggests that. Wilhelmsen actually gave up on a lot of money to go back to Seattle. With a $3.1 million owed to him this season, he refused to head down to the minors, and so was cut, forfeiting more than half his salary ($1.8 million). He signed for about $500,000 with the Mariners to go back there, before his contract is up at the end of this season.
From 2011, when he made his debut, through the 2015 season, Wilhelmsen had a an ERA of 2.97, and while he was always quite wild with his pitches, only once striking out 3 batters or more per walk in a season, he was quite effective in his relief role. When the Mariners traded him to Texas, the centerpiece on the other end was Leonys Martin, who is batting .241 with 13 home runs this season, his first as a major league player.
In Texas, Wilhelmsen was a complete failure. His velocity was in the dumps (in this graph, you can see his speed picking up once he moved back to Seattle) and he posted a shocking 10.55 ERA, striking only 4.6 batters per 9 innings while waving 1.2 batters per walk. He pitched through 21.1 innings before the Rangers had enough, tried to demote him, he refused, and ended up with the Mariners again, quite happy he was back in the Northwest.
Since coming back, Wilhelmsen is back to his previous velocity (above 95 mph on average), with a 2.08 ERA through 13 innings, back to striking out 6.2 batters per nine innings, although he still walks way too many batters (4.2 per nine innings). What’s more interesting is what he said about his time with the Rangers: “It wasn’t by choice [making the Rangers lose], … I was so used to beating the Rangers and.. Nothing changes I guess … The front office made me feel as comfortable as I could but there just wasn’t a fit. I tried to fake it [feeling at home in Texas] as much as I could.
So just a bad season, or something more? Whatever the answer is, it may cause teams to think twice before trading with division rivals, not quite sure if the player they’re getting is some kind of sleeper agent, or simply someone who can shake off his previous allegiances.